Chinese electric vehicle (EV) brand Nio, manufacturer of vehicles like the Tesla Model 3-rivalling ET5, wants to build cheaper models for export markets.

    Autocar reports Nio has built right-hand drive prototypes of vehicles from its new budget brand, codenamed Firefly, but will focus on Europe first.

    Vehicles from this brand will reportedly target EVs from Ford, Renault and Volkswagen.

    Firefly will be positioned beneath both Nio and an upcoming new brand codenamed Alps.

    This will be a “family car” brand, for which Nio has already constructed validation prototypes of its first model.

    “It has been over a month since the Alps VB [verification build] was completed,” said Nio CEO William Li.

    “[It’s] focused on the family market, which means product definition will be easier and clearer [than with the Nio brand]. In contrast, high-end brands need to offer some emotional elements.

    “Starting next year, you will see a different Nio as it introduces a second brand. The family market is distinct from the high-end market. We’re using our latecomer advantage.

    “In the past, once the VB was completed, it would quickly enter SOP [start of production]. But this time, we will wait a bit, and in the end, we will come in and disrupt the game.”

    The Alps brand will launch with three models, sold direct to consumer.

    Nio’s CEO says the company’s namesake brand won’t go below the Model 3-rivalling ET5, which starts at €47,500 in Europe.

    The new brands will target Europe, but Nio is also eyeing the UAE and has indicated it plans to roll out its battery-swapping stations in new markets.

    Vehicles from all three brands will support battery swapping.

    Nio last December revealed its third-generation power swap station design that can support 408 swaps per day.

    These stations allow Nio to sell battery-as-a-service (BaaS), meaning owners effectively lease battery access – meaning their car always runs up-to-date packs.

    A planned entry into the US market reportedly remains in the planning phases. While some Chinese-made vehicles are sold there, no Chinese brands compete there unless you count Polestar.

    Autocar reports Nio, in addition to stepping downmarket with its new brands, will also take its namesake brand further upmarket.

    A new flagship sedan will rival the likes of the BMW i7 and Mercedes-Benz EQS, serving as a technological showcase.

    Despite expected low volumes and high pricing, Nio’s CEO says the new model will be profitable, noting the profit from selling one Mercedes-Benz S-Class is equivalent to selling several dozen A-Classes.

    Nio has already entered various Western European markets with vehicles like the ET5 and its wagon spinoff, the ET5 Touring, the latter of which was designed with European buyers front of mind.

    There’s been speculation it could enter the Australian market by 2025, though it recently encountered a hurdle as Audi opposed trademark applications for the Nio ES6, ES7 and ES8 arguing these are too close to its own S6, S7 and S8.

    MORE: Brand overview: Nio

    William Stopford

    William Stopford is an automotive journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. William is a Business/Journalism graduate from the Queensland University of Technology who loves to travel, briefly lived in the US, and has a particular interest in the American car industry.

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